ASHLEY TAIT experienced first round play-off agony twice in as many years with Sheffield Steelers – and is happy for the South Yorkshire club to go through it a third straight time.
Tait was part of the Steelers side knocked out by Coventry Blaze over two legs this time last year, a result which ultimately helped convince owner Tony Smith that he should replace Ryan Finnerty as coach.
A year earlier, Finnerty’s team had overperformed to finish runners-up in the regular season, only to suffer an unexpected defeat – without an injured Tait – to Yorkshire rivals Hull Stingrays.
A summer move back to Coventry – a club he captained to the treble in 2004-05 – last year, means Tait will line up against his former Steelers’ team-mates at the Blaze’s Skydome Arena tonight, with the quarter-final’s second leg being staged at the Motorpoint Arena on April Fool’s night.
The Blaze only scraped into the post-season thanks to last Sunday’s overtime win against Cardiff Devils.
But, after a difficult season which has seen coach Matt Soderstrom replaced by former Steelers’ assistant coach Marc LeFebvre, Tait believes Coventry can salvage their campaign by at least reaching the final four weekend in Nottingham next Saturday at the expense of the Steelers.
“I think we can win the series, definitely,” said Tait, who enjoyed two spells in South Yorkshire, scoring 304 points, including 107 goals in 273 appearances.
“It was very disappointing to go out at this stage the last two years – you want to make it to Nottingham because it’s such a great experience.
To listen to Ashley Tait talk about facing his former club click HERE
“The guys that are still here from last year know what a huge upset it was for them to beat Sheffield and so we need to get that message across to the rest of the guys who are here for the first time. It’s going to be very tight and pretty intense over the two nights. We’ve got to put four games together to win a trophy – as has everybody else. It’s a whole new season.”
Steelers’ captain Steven Goertzen, who returned to the starting line-up for last weekend’s 4-2 defeat at Hull Stingrays, admitted that the heartache suffered by the club at the same stage in the last two years meant it was imperative they at least made it to Nottingham this time around.
“It’s a great time to play hockey - that’s why we all play the game, to be involved in games like these,” said Goertzen, who spent just over a month on the sidelines after sustaining a concussion in a 3-2 shoot-out defeat at Cardiff Devils.
“If we can get some redemption from last year that would be great. A lot of our guys are returnees and Coventry put us out last year, so we have to make sure that we achieve our first goal of making that final four weekend in Nottingham.
To watch Steelers’ Steve Goertzen talk about the play-off battle with Coventry Blaze click the PLAY button at the top of this page
“Coventry are a great team and they’ll be playing with some energy coming into the play-offs after last weekend and they’ve got a couple of guys who can really hurt you offensively.
“They are the kind of team you have to pay full attention to for 60 minutes.”
THE STORY SO FAR ...... Steelers v Blaze
Sep 7: Coventry 2 Steelers 4
Oct 5: Steelers 3 Coventry 2 (OT)
Oct 27: Coventry 3 Steelers 2 (OT)
Oct 31: Steelers 5 Coventry 2
Nov 9: Coventry 2 Steelers 4
Dec 17: Coventry 4 Steelers 1
Jan 11: Steelers 5 Coventry 4 (OT)
Jan 26: Coventry 4 Steelers 6
Feb 9: Steelers 5 Coventry 1
Mar 22: Steelers 2 Coventry 0